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GAR 100 - 12th Edition

Lévy Kaufmann-Kohler

05 April 2019

Co-founder Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler has been at the forefront of efforts to reform ISDS while maintaining a busy practice as a leading international arbitrator

People in Who's Who Legal 4
People in Future Leaders 3
Pending cases as counsel 23
Value of pending counsel work US$702 million
Lawyers sitting as arbitrator 8

This boutique began in 2007 when the co-founders of Schellenberg Wittmer’s international arbitration practice in Geneva – Laurent Lévy and Gabrielle Kaufmann-Kohler – realised their success as arbitrators was starting to impede their junior colleagues’ work as counsel and vice versa.

As well as handling the busy caseloads of these two arbitrators, the firm undertakes some counsel work in commercial, investment and sports arbitration.

Kaufmann-Kohler and Lévy need little introduction, being two of the most famous and active international arbitrators on the circuit. A study published in GAR that applied analysis of the frequency with which investment arbitrators are appointed and cited named Kaufmann-Kohler as the most influential arbitrator in the world. As of April 2018, she is also the president of the International Council for Commercial Arbitration, or ICCA.

She’s influential in academia too. A professor emerita at Geneva University Law School, she is the founder and former director of the Geneva MIDS, an LLM programme in international dispute settlement. She is now a visiting professor at the National University of Singapore, Tsinghua University in Beijing and Georgetown University, Washington DC.

In addition, she co-founded the Foundation for International Arbitration Advocacy and is an honorary president of the Swiss Arbitration Association (ASA). She was part of a group of experts tasked with advising the Swiss government on revisions to the country’s international arbitration statute, and is also a member of the Swiss delegation to UNCITRAL. 

Lévy meanwhile is a former vice president of the ICC Court and the LCIA and a council member of the ICC Institute of World Business Law.

Antonio Rigozzi heads the firm’s sports practice and is considered to be one of the leading specialists in Court of Arbitration for Sport matters, where he has represented associations such as the United States Olympic Committee, UEFA and FIFA (including in proceedings against former UEFA vice president Michel Platini and former FIFA president Sepp Blatter). He has also represented football players, clubs and national federations, Olympic medallists and a three-time winner of the Tour de France.

The firm made its first addition to the partnership in 2011 by promoting Chilean-Italian Sabina Sacco. In 2015, it recruited partner Sébastien Besson who spent 10 years with Python & Peter and is a member of the ASA board.

The team also includes recently promoted partner Eva Kalnina, a Latvian national who features on ICSID’s panel of arbitrators (along with Kaufmann-Kohler) and is a member of the Permanent Court of Arbitration.

The firm prides itself on its multicultural and multilingual background, noting that its lawyers hail from 10 different countries, are well versed in the civil law and common law systems and are proficient in many languages.

Who uses it?

The firm’s commercial clients include two Swiss and several other European banks, a European tobacco company and a special purpose vehicle representing Qatari interests. It has acted for two Egyptian state entities (in a Swiss court challenge to a US$2 billion ICC award).

Other users are a South American mining company, a European aerospace company and an international development bank.

Track record

The firm’s sports counsel work attracted international attention through Rigozzi and Besson’s successful defence of football’s governing body FIFA against CAS claims filed by Platini and Blatter following corruption allegations. Platini failed to have his 90-day suspension from football-related activities rescinded, while Blatter was unable to overturn a decision banning him from all football-related activities for six years.

It successfully represented a European tobacco company in an ICC arbitration and subsequent annulment proceedings.

Recent events

It helped a Finnish company defeat an ICC claim, obtaining the revocation of the claimant’s arbitrator, the withdrawal of all claims and the termination of the proceedings. It also won a full award of the arbitration costs as well as legal costs.

At CAS, the firm successfully represented FIFA in appeal proceedings brought by its former secretary general, Jérôme Valcke, against a FIFA decision sanctioning him with a 10-year ban from all football-related activities and a fine for multiple breaches of the FIFA code of ethics.

In another case for FIFA, it defended an award against a challenge by Belgian club FC Seraing in a dispute arising from FIFA’s ban on third-party ownership of players’ economic rights.

Kaufmann-Kohler and associate Michele Potestà have authored a pair of reports submitted to the UNCITRAL working group working on reforms of the investor-state dispute settlement system. The pair have since formed an academic forum to contribute expertise to UNCITRAL’s reform work.

Kaufmann-Kohler is also among a group of leading arbitration specialists that feature on a new committee of international commercial experts appointed by China’s Supreme People’s Court to advise the new China International Commercial Court.

Examples of her recent arbitrator work include chairing a US$5 billion ICSID claim against Guinea over mining rights that settled in early 2019. She also chaired an ICC tribunal that ordered a consortium working on a project to expand the Panama Canal to reimburse US$847 million in advances paid by the Panama Canal Authority.

She has also been sitting on an ICC tribunal hearing a US$40 million investment treaty claim against Libya brought by two Turkish joint venture partners over disruption to an underground pipeline project.

Lévy meanwhile continues to preside over ICSID claims against Lithuania and Algeria.

Sébastien Besson is chairing an ICC panel hearing a US$600 million ICC claim against Gabon.

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